Monday, November 17, 2014

Holiday Travel Planning for Foreign Nationals

From Fragomen.com, 11/13/2014

If you are a foreign national planning to travel abroad during the upcoming holiday season, now is the right time to make sure you are prepared, from an immigration perspective, to depart and reenter the United States. Understanding your immigration obligations can help minimize delays on reentry. 

WHAT INTERNATIONAL TRAVELERS SHOULD DO NOW 

Before you travel abroad this holiday season, make sure to do the following: 

Check your passport validity. In general, your passport must be valid for at least six months beyond the expiration of your period of admission to the United States. This is to ensure that you will be able to leave the United States at the end of your stay and proceed to your home country or another country. There are some exceptions to this rule. Many countries have an agreement with the United States under which a passport is deemed valid for an additional six months past its expiration date so that the passport holder can return to his or her country of citizenship. 

Check your visa to make sure it is valid for reentry to the United States. When you come back to the United States after international travel, the visa stamp in your passport must reflect your current nonimmigrant visa status, it must be unexpired, and, if the visa has a limited number of entries, it must have a remaining valid entry available on the intended date of reentry to the United States. 

Under certain circumstances, if you are making a short trip of 30 days or less to Canada or Mexico and have a valid I-94 arrival record, you can reenter on a previously issued visa even if it has expired. But if you have applied for a new visa while in Canada or Mexico or if you are a citizen or national of Cuba, Iran, Sudan or Syria, you must wait to obtain the new visa in order to reenter the United States. 

For additional information on visa requirements, click here

If you are an adjustment applicant, find out whether you need advance permission to travel before you leave the United States. If you are an applicant for adjustment of status to permanent residence, you may be required to obtain advance permission to travel – known as advance parole – in order to leave the United States while your adjustment application is pending. 

If you already have a valid H-1B or H-4 visa, you may reenter the United States on that visa, without the need for advance parole. Family members in H-4 status who have worked in the United States should be cautious when traveling, however, and obtain and use an advance parole for reentry to the United States. 

Is a change or extension of your status pending with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services? Traveling abroad while your extension application is pending should not jeopardize your application. But if you have a change of status application pending, you should avoid international travel until it is adjudicated. USCIS will consider the change of status request to be abandoned if you depart the United States while it is pending. Though the underlying nonimmigrant petition could still be approved, you would need to depart the United States, apply for and obtain a new visa, and reenter to take up the new status. Find out additional information here

If you’re planning business or tourist travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program, make sure you comply with program requirements. The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) allows citizens and nationals of designated countries to enter the United States for up to 90 days of business or tourist travel without a visa, provided that they meet specific registration and passport requirements. If you’re planning to travel under the VWP, you will need to have a valid registration in the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) at least 72 hours before your departure for the United States. Find out more about VWP passport and ESTA requirements here


WHAT TO EXPECT AT U.S. CONSULATES AND U.S. PORTS OF ENTRY 

Plan for the possibility of visa issuance delays at U.S. consulates. During the holiday travel season, U.S. consulates overseas are busier than ever and may have reduced hours. If you will apply for a new visa while abroad, check the relevant consulate or embassy for specific information about appointments, application procedures and processing times. Detailed information about visa application procedures is available here

Plan for possible security clearance delays during the visa application process. The U.S. consulate may require your visa application to undergo additional security checks based on your country of nationality, whether your name is similar to an individual listed in a U.S. government security database, whether your job or degree is in a high-technology field, among other reasons. If a security clearance is required, your visa cannot be issued until the clearance has been completed. Because this process is confidential, the consulate will not confirm that a security clearance is underway but may indicate that “administrative processing” is required. Security clearances can take anywhere from a few days to several weeks or more. In general, the government will not expedite a security clearance. 

At the U.S. port of entry, be prepared for security screening procedures. When you return to the United States, you will need to go through the Biometric Data Collection System (formerly known as US-VISIT), a check-in process where your fingerprints, photograph and travel documents are scanned against U.S. national security and police databases. You may also be subject to intensive questioning about your immigration status, travel history, the purpose of your visit, background, employment and other issues. 

It is important to remain patient during these procedures and answer all questions clearly. If you don’t understand a question, ask for clarification. I For detailed information about border procedures, click here

Obtain your Form I-94 arrival record. Once you have been cleared by U.S. Customs and Border Protection at an air or sea port of entry, your passport will be stamped to show the date and class of admission, and the expiration date of your authorized stay. Your immigration information and duration of stay will also be entered into CBP’s online I-94 arrival record system. The expiration date on the passport stamp and on the I-94 record marks the expiration of your eligibility to remain in valid legal status in the U.S. 

After your arrival in the United States, it is recommended that you check your online I-94 here. Retain a copy for your records. Notify Customs and Border Protection as soon as possible if you note any errors in your I-94 record. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Driver Services Commissioner Announces New Online Service “Pre-Apply Online” Fill Out Application Anytime, Anywhere, Any Device


Georgia Department of Driver Services (DDS) Commissioner Rob Mikell announced today a new online customer service tool designed to improve licensing efficiency and ultimately reduce customer wait times.  Pre-Apply Online enables customers to jump start their licensing service by submitting a completed application for a license, permit or identification card before visiting the DDS.
This additional online enhancement helps fulfill the DDS mission of embracing new technologies to serve a greater number of customers more efficiently.  “Customers who Pre-Apply Online will skip the sometimes awkward task of completing the required paperwork while listening for their number to be called,” Commissioner Mikell said.  “The submitted information populates directly to the mainframe, reducing data entry time and any potential typing errors at the time of service.”
Since launching this feature on September 16th, over 2,600 customers have accessed, completed and successfully transmitted the required application online. Out of the participants, 1,100 have visited DDS to complete their service.
About the Process
  • Customers will click on the “Save Time! Pre Apply Online” tab https://online.dds.ga.gov/onlineservices/preapply/ on the Agency’s website homepage to review the requirements and begin the application.
  • Pre-Apply Online is a free service for existing or new DDS customers and can be accessed from any device that has Internet capability including smart phones and tablets.
  • All customers must have a social security number.
  • Customers UNDER THE AGE OF 18 are required to print the application and bring it with them (along with their parent/guardian) when they visit the DDS.
  • Pre-apply Online is easy to navigate and can be saved and accessed for 30 days before expiring. 
  • Customers have the option of printing a confirmation page and/or the completed application.
  • Within 30 days, customers should visit a DDS center with the required Secure ID documentation (review identity and residency requirements here http://www.dds.ga.gov/secureid/).
  • If customers are unable to make it into a DDS center within thirty days, the application will expire, and they will need to Pre-Apply again.
  • Customers that provide their email address will have a reminder sent to them prior to the application expiration date.
Please visit the DDS website, www.dds.ga.gov, for complete driver education, testing and issuance information including new Federal Homeland Security requirements to establish identity and residency.

Monday, November 10, 2014

U.S., China to extend visa validity to boost trade, tourism

From Reuters, 11/10/2014

China and the United States have agreed to significantly extend the terms of short-term visas, U.S. President Barack Obama said on Monday in Beijing, a deal he said would improve trade and business ties between the world's two largest economies.
Under the deal, which the United States will put into effect on Nov. 12, both countries would extend the terms of multiple entry short-term tourist and business visas to 10 years from one year, the White House said in an accompanying statement. Student visas would be extended to five years from one year.
"As a result of this arrangement, the United States hopes to welcome a growing share of eligible Chinese travelers, inject billions (of dollars) in the U.S. economy and create enough demand to support hundreds of thousands of additional U.S. jobs," the White House said in an emailed statement.
Obama made the announcement to business leaders during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum after arriving in Beijing on the first leg of an eight-day Asia tour.
The extension of some visas for Chinese nationals to 10 years matches what is currently allowed for citizens of nations with close relations with the United States, such as European countries and Brazil.
A senior U.S. official said the visa agreement would allow the United States to tap into the fast-growing market of Chinese tourists traveling abroad. The United States now attracts only 2 percent of Chinese tourism.
"We see this as a really big win," the official said, estimating that the United States could gain 440,000 jobs by 2021 and receive an $85 billion annual infusion into the American economy as a result of the new policy.
It will also make it easier for Chinese businesses and investors to get involved in U.S. projects.
A second U.S. official said the political benefit of greater contact between Americans and Chinese would "get to some of the core sources of distrust and competition at the heart of the U.S.-China relationship".
Chinese travelers have long complained about extensive waiting times for pending U.S. visa applications, although the United States says it has made significant improvements.